Monday, January 15, 2018

My Top 10 Movies of 2017

10. War for the Planet of the Apes

This is the weakest of the new PotA trilogy, but the other two are so strong that War doesn't have to top them to be amazing. I love how the overarching story builds and explores the conflict between compassion and hate, with each entry looking at it from a different angle.

Rise sees compassion and hate mostly from the human point of view as different people have different feelings about the apes (and by metaphor, about anyone who's different from them). Dawn transfers the conflict to the apes as Caesar and Koba struggle with the proper response to humanity's abuse. But in War the conflict is within Caesar himself.

His ongoing battle with the human Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has led Caesar down a dark path and threatens the beliefs that he holds most dear. War handles this in a beautiful, emotional way and it's a great conclusion to what's easily my favorite science fiction trilogy of all time (at least until the current Star Wars trilogy is done... fingers crossed).

It's this low in the Top 10 only because of particular plot points that I don't care for, but that's about me, not the movie.

9. Wonder Woman

It's awesome. The first DCU movie that's about an actual super hero. I love that Wonder Woman goes on a character journey that is never about whether or not she's going act heroically. It's about her world view changing from simple and naive to complicated and mature. It shakes her to her core, and there's a Zac Snyder moment that made me worried about what she'd do, but she recovers quickly and gets back to the work of fighting evil. Just beautiful.

And I love that the movie is able to introduce her to the world as a fish-out-of-water without sacrificing her confidence. She's learning a new culture and there are funny moments that result, but she's never the butt of the joke.

I do want to point out one thing though that bugs me a little. Not about this movie as its own object, but what it reveals about the wider DC movie universe. In Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman has clearly been gone a long time. No one knows about her or remembers her. It's a major plot point that Batman figures out that she's not a brand new hero, but someone who was around a long time ago. And BvS implies that something happened when she was first here that sent her into hiding. She may or may not have fled back to Themyscira, but she certainly disappeared from the public eye. And that made me concerned - especially in the shadow of Man of Steel and BvS - that Wonder Woman was going to be another dark movie about how heroism is punished.

Watching Wonder Woman, I can still see that movie in there. Diana goes through the ringer. And I can imagine a Snyder-influenced ending where she gives up her mission and just goes home for 100 years. I am so glad that the folks in charge decided not to do that and instead had Diana stick around to keep working, but it does create a large discontinuity with BvS. Making a movie about a hero is a great course correction for the series, but it is a course correction and not a flawless one.

The real thing keeping Wonder Woman out of my Top 5 though is the Ares battle. It's not bad, but I have a hard time with the transition from David Thewlis to full-on, battle-mode Ares. That whole fight is too much CG splashed across the screen. It doesn't ruin the movie in any way, but it's a weakness in an otherwise flawless production.

8. It

I've never read the book or seen the original mini-series adaptation, so I have nothing negative to say about restructuring this first film to be just from the kids' point of view. It was an awesome move and created a movie very much in the vein of Stranger Things and all the '80s kids-on-bicycles movies it's an homage to.

The kid actors are all great and the characters are mostly all great. There are one or two who could be superfluous, but I'm not complaining. None of my favorites were cheated of any characterization because of the others.

It's an entertainingly scary movie. Not completely terrifying, but chilling enough. And I like how the human monsters (bullies and certain parents) are just as nerve-wracking and horrifying as any of the supernatural ones. In the end, the strategy for defeating both kinds of monsters is the same and I love that, too. Can't wait for the sequel.

7. Table 19

I wanted to see this because I like Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, and Lisa Kudrow and the trailer looked pretty funny. I generally like wedding comedies because weddings are pretty funny anyway, but I wasn't prepared for how funny and touching Table 19 is.

It's the Breakfast Club of wedding movies. The concept is that at every wedding there's a table of misfits whom no one really expected to come or knows what to do with. Kendrick is the ex-girlfriend of the bride's brother. Robinson and Kudrow are a married couple who have a business relationship with the bride's father. There's also a former nanny, the solo teen-aged son of some family friends, and a disgraced cousin.

But where I expected a revenge comedy about these misfits' taking over the wedding, Table 19 is interested in the characters as people. It discusses why they all decided to come in the first place, forces them to confront their status as outcasts, and lets them bond in a really beautiful way.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Amazing. Spectacular. The ultimate. Web of, even.

I'm not going to call it my favorite Spider-Man movie, because there's some apples-and-oranges going on, but it's exactly the Spider-Man movie that I needed right now. No origin story and not even any universe-building. In fact, it's the opposite of universe-building, because the whole point is to explain why Spider-Man needs his own special corner of the MCU. And I love that the explanation is built on the phrase, "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man." It makes sense, it's what the character needs, and it's exactly where I want to see him go.

Also, what a great, funny, diverse cast of supporting characters. And Michael Keaton is brilliant. Best movie interpretation of a Spider-Man villain so far. And I'm not forgetting about Doctor Octopus.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

I liked it better than the first one. It's just as funny and visually interesting and the music is just as cool, but it has a more complex villain and some really great (and truly touching) development for Rocket, Yondu, and Nebula. Mantis is an awesome new character and my love for Dave Bautista is now fully stoked. Also, some excellent cameos that were genuine surprises.

4. The Last Jedi

The short version is that I love it. It's a Top Three Star Wars movie for me and I appreciate it more with each viewing. Five times as I'm writing this.

I'll give you the long version on an episode of Nerd Lunch next week, but feel free to discuss with me in the comments below if you want. This is a controversial one and I'm interested in talking it out.

3. A Cure for Wellness

Gore Verbinski's latest film is the best Hammer horror movie in 40 years. It's weird and gothic and so directly aimed at a particular audience that I understand why critics were largely down on it. But I'm fully in that intended audience.

It's about a young man (Dane DeHaan) who's sent by his company to retrieve their CEO from a Swiss wellness center that he's disappeared to. After being stonewalled by the spa's director (Jason Isaacs), DeHaan begins to suspect that something sinister is going on. Not just with his boss, but with all the patients and a young, not-quite-a-patient named Hannah (the impossibly awesomely named Mia Goth). I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, but it gets strange and lurid while still holding together as a story. The weirdness isn't for its own sake; it's part of a mystery that makes sense, even though it's wild and imaginative.

2. Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is as powerful as everyone says. It's simultaneously uplifting and frustrating in exactly the ways that it's trying to be.

What's cool though is that it's also frustrating in some surprising ways. In addition to stories of casual, systemic racism (which are always more powerful to me than the overt, aggressive kind), the movie makes a rather depressing statement about what spurs the white characters towards progress. Since NASA is literally about reaching for the stars and making scientific progress, I guess I expected the movie to depict social progress as some kind of natural result of that.

That's very much not the case though and the film spends quite a bit of time reminding us that the '60s space race was a product of the Cold War. Whatever justice the main characters experience by the end isn't a product of compassion, but fear. It takes the common enemy of the Soviets to motivate the establishment and help it see the value of its non-white allies. Progress is made and that's why Hidden Figures is an encouraging story, but I like that the movie complicates, rather than romanticizes what sparks that change.

1. Kong: Skull Island

I love the 2014 Godzilla, but I also understand the complaint that the monster's not in it enough. I completely disagree, but I understand it. That's definitely not a problem with Kong: Skull Island though.

This isn't the familiar Kong story, but that's for the best since that story is well defined by now. It was time for something new and this is it. The island and its inhabitants (human and monsters alike) are all cool and the film spends plenty of time on them. More importantly, it also spends plenty of time on the invading characters so that I absolutely cared what happened to them, too. Even when I disliked what someone was doing, I totally understood why they were doing it.

It's a great companion piece to Godzilla and I cannot wait for the eventual showdown between the two monsters.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

War for the Planet of the Apes:
This one does feel lesser coming off the much bigger, morally grayer conflict of "Dawn". I think we can agree these new Ape films are great, but are all inappropriately titled.

Wonder Woman:
This one's quality and overall competence completely caught me off guard and does feel made in the mold of a more traditional superhero movie (especially with the many Christopher Reeve homages). I understand a lot of people take issue with "so what happened between the end of this and BvS?" and that'll likely either resolves or is further muddled by the eventually sequel. I suppose thats just an inevitable part of making a prequel though.

Siskoid said...

War for the Planet of the Apes: This trilogy was indeed a great achievement. An amazing journey. Will they resist now remaking the original?

Wonder Woman: You're ranking is correct I think. Diana is wonderful, but the final act suffers from CG supervillain battle, and the whole look of the film is in line with Snyder's and I just hate that. As for your worry that WW disappears for 100 years, it may be that her other missions are more secret (I'd love a pantsuit era movie, for example), or that they'll Flashpoint that plot point out of existence.

It: While Stephen King doesn't exactly turn my crank, and thus neither did It, the movie is chock full of background stuff that gives it a lot of replay value.

Table 19: One of the movies I haven't seen, but it's on Netflix, so I guess now I have to. Ergo, I very quickly scanned your review and will properly read it later.

Spider-Man: Lovely, though I felt the length at times. The Vulture is the best supervillain in a MCU movie since Loki.

Guardians: Also made my Top 5. I liked it better than the first one too. I cried like a baby.

The Last Jedi: Top 3 SW movies? Yes I agree. It didn't make my Top 5, but SW finally feels like it's about something except itself.

A Cure for Wellness: Never heard of it. Taking notes.

Hidden Figures: Technically a 2016 movie, but we all saw it in 2017, definitely one of the better biopics to come down the pike. I do love me space program stories and this an important - and criminally untold - one.

Skull Island: WOW. It made #1???? I'm not gonna argue, because I was in the 50% of people who LOVED this thing. I almost put it in my Top 5, but maybe I didn't want the fight and slipped the more "important" Get Out in its slot. But good on you. (Thinking about it a little more, OF COURSE a giant monster movie would have an advantage on the Adventureblog!)

For the record the other movies in my Top 5 were Baby Driver (which I know you didn't love as much as I did), Lady Bird and LEGO Batman.

Thanks for doing this series every year, Michael!

Michael May said...

I'd love to see a Wonder Woman movie set in the '70s during that 100-year gap. And if she's wearing a white jumpsuit, all the better!

Siskoid, Baby Driver is a pretty great crime movie; it was just darker than I wanted from an Edgar Wright film. I assign those Letterboxd star ratings based on my personal reaction to the movie, but if I was to review it objectively, I'd give it another star-and-a-half. The driving scenes are AMAZING.

I've finally added Lady Bird to my To Do list. I think I'm past the title now. Bad titles seem to have been a big turnoff for me in 2017.

Siskoid said...

Bad titles are like bad trailers. They do a disservice to the films by attracting the wrong audience.


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